History of the Museum

The Story of the Kent State University Museum

In January, 1982, Kent State University Foundation received the largest and most valuable gift offered since the university's founding in 1910: the collection of fashion, historic costume, paintings and decorative arts amassed by Shannon Rodgers and Jerry Silverman, partners in Jerry Silverman, Inc., a manufacturer of better dresses on Seventh Avenue in New York City. They were persuaded to make this extraordinary gift to the University during the administration of President Brage Golding who endorsed their vision of establishing both a museum and a curriculum in fashion design and merchandising. Shannon's Ohio roots enabled the first connection with Kent State, and generous members of the Kent, Cleveland and Akron communities joined University Alumni in enthusiastically supporting the idea of a museum. The original Silverman/Rodgers gift included 4,000 costumes and accessories, nearly 1,000 pieces of decorative art and a 5,000 volume reference library. In 1983, Akron antique collectors Jabe Tarter and Paul Miller donated their extensive collection of American glass. The collection now numbers over 20,000 objects - enriched by major gifts from Helen O. Borowitz, Paige Palmer, Martha McCaskey Selhorst, John Wilkinson, and many other generous donors. The Museum opened in 1985 in Rockwell Hall, the original University Library, which was renovated to meet the highest museum standards. Built in 1927, the building reflects Beaux Arts design elements which were carefully restored under the supervision of Ted Curtis, former Kent State University architect, and the Cleveland architectural firm Whitley & Whitley. The Higbee Gallery showcases elements of the original building including the marble, woodwork and chandeliers. A teaching collection and cultural gateway to the University, the Museum is dedicated to collecting, exhibiting, interpreting and preserving fashion and decorative arts.

Jerry Silverman (1910-1984)

Born in New York City, Jerry, a Harvard graduate, left the legal profession to work in the fashion industry. After his service in World War II, he returned to work at Martini Designs and shortly thereafter hired a young designer, Shannon Rodgers. At Martini, Jerry became Vice President and Sales Manager as well as part owner, and developed a line of cocktail dresses in petite sizes designed by Shannon. In 1959 he and Shannon established their own company, Jerry Silverman, Inc. Their business partnership became one of the most successful manufacturers of women's better dresses in the industry, a position it maintained until they sold the business in 1973. At its zenith the firm operated four factories in Pennsylvania supervised by production manager Sheldon Landau. Jerry's personality and business skills made him a sought after counselor to others, and Jerry and Shannon filled an important social role in the industry, entertaining lavishly in their city and country homes. Members of the national and local press, buyers from stores of all sizes, and fellow members of the industry all enjoyed their hospitality. A love of antiques spurred them to decorate their homes with excellent examples of decorative arts. It was Jerry who added some of his family antiques and many Manchu Dynasty Chinese robes to the growing collection, and when it was time to find a home for the collection, it was Jerry who believed that it should be made available to students. When President Golding offered to create a museum and develop a curriculum in fashion design and merchandising, Jerry enthusiastically agreed to place the collection at Kent State University.

Shannon Rodgers (1911-1996)

Born in Newcomerstown, Ohio, Shannon was encouraged by Cleveland sculptor Waylan Gregory to pursue a career in the arts. He began by working in the New York theatre as an assistant to costume designer Woodman Thompson, making extra money by sketching for various firms in the fashion industry. For one of the plays, The Warrior's Husband, starring Katherine Hepburn, Shannon did the 'Greek' ornament on the costumes. Cecil B. DeMille saw the production and hired him to work on his film Cleopatra. During the years before World War II, he worked for almost all the major Hollywood studios as a studio artist. Following his service in the United States Army Transport Service, he was hired in New York by Jerry Silverman. Shannon was still in uniform since he had no civilian clothes. Twelve years later they established their partnership, Jerry Silverman, Inc., and the label, Shannon Rodgers for Jerry Silverman. This was the first time Shannon's name had been credited for any of his design work. Their first season was a great success with Shannon quickly defining his signature style - a simplified version of the fashionable Parisian silhouette accented with a decorative touch that made the dresses immensely appealing to American women. By the early 1960's Shannon had begun collecting what was to become one of the largest and finest period costume collections in the United States. Together with the furnishings of Silverman's and Rodgers' homes, this collection forms the core of the Museum and provides a comprehensive teaching collection of fashionable design from the 18th century to the present.